What to Expect from an Ayurvedic Consultation

Ayurveda, yoga's sister science and India’s traditional system of medicine, is believed to be around 5,000 years old, and is considered to be the longest continuously practiced system of medicine. Before blood tests, MRIs, CAT scans, EKGs, and x-rays, there was the eightfold examination process called ashtavidha pariksha. (Ashta means "eight," "vidha" means fold or process, and "pariksha" means exam.) This checkup is still practiced today by Ayurvedic medical doctors and certified consultants.

The eightfold exam is a thorough process in which the consultant really gets to know you. It consists of examining eight areas of the body and bodily functions, all of which reveal places of balance and imbalance. In our online Ayurvedic consultations, some of these components are adjusted to work within a virtual session; however, much remains the same. Although the pulse won’t be taken, for example, you may find yourself sticking out your tongue or putting your nails up to your camera! The cornerstone to a thorough consultation is always in the questioning, gathering a complete picture of your diet and lifestyle.

The Eightfold Exam

Pulse. Taking the pulse is a way to determine one’s constitution, or dosha, and current state of imbalance. (If you don't know your dosha yet, take our quiz to find out.) The Ayurvedic practitioner feels for the strength of vata, pitta, and kapha in the pulse. They look for the overall qualities of the pulse as well: hot or cold, feeble or bounding, stable or mobile, heavy or light. Vata is felt under the first finger, pitta in the middle finger, and kapha under the ring finger.  A dry, light, cold pulse reveals the presence of vata; a hot, bounding, sharp pulse indicates pitta; a slow, soft, steady pulse is more kapha in nature. 

Urine. Talking about urination might feel uncomfortable, but there’s important information available in this discussion. The color can indicate if one is properly hydrated; the frequency can indicate if there’s enough fluid intake. Pain or discomfort could indicate a more complicated concern. Scanty urine can reveal the presence of vata; hot urine can show the presence of pitta; cloudy urine may indicate excess kapha.

To try it yourself, collect a sample of fresh urine in a glass jar (midstream in the first urine in the morning). Place a drop of sesame oil on the surface and observe its pattern:

  • Vata conditions: Oil floats and pattern resembles a snake
  • Pitta conditions: Bubbles appear; splits into small drops; makes the shape of a ring
  • Kapha conditions: Looks like a pearl and may sink

Feces. Again, a little uncomfortable to discuss, but it can reveal vitally important information about digestive health. Daily elimination (or lack thereof) is a visible indication of digestive health. Ideally, we should eliminate every morning within one hour of waking. The bowel movement should have no pain or strain and be the consistency of a banana. Constipation indicates that vata is present, loose stools indicate pitta, and heavy, sludgy stools indicate kapha. To cleanse the digestive system, begin your day by sipping hot water with lemon. Simply fill your favorite mug with boiled water and squeeze in fresh lemon juice to taste.

Tongue. When examining the tongue, the practitioner looks at the color and shape, checking to see if there are scallops on the sides, movement, coating, or cracking. A large, round-tipped tongue indicates more kapha; redness suggests pitta; cracking and a thin, pointed-tip tongue is more prevalent in vata. Scalloped edges on the sides of the tongue (teeth impressions) indicate possible malabsorption or malnutrition. Coating indicates a presence of ama, or undigested food, in the digestive system.

Try sticking out your tongue first thing in the morning and doing an Ayurvedic self-evaluation. Is there coating? If yes, what color? White is an indication of kapha; yellow, pitta; and brown, vata. It‘s important to remove this coating every morning using a metal tongue scraper. Gently scrape from the back to the front of the tongue, three to five times. This removes digestive waste and stimulates the digestive system.

Sounds in the body. Gurgling in the stomach or cracking of the joints indicate the presence of vata. Eating cooked foods and keeping regular mealtimes can help with gurgling, and rubbing the joints with sesame oil can soothe cracking sounds. The quality, speed, and tone of your voice also give information about your constitution. If you speak quickly and tend to lose your train of thought, there may be excess vata present. Those with more pitta in their constitution speak sharply and clearly. Kapha types take their time expressing their thoughts while speaking slowly.

Eyes. The doshas affect both the shape and color of the eyes. Small, dry eyes indicate vata; medium, piercing, intense eyes are present with pitta; big, watery eyes are kapha eyes. If there is redness or yellowness in the whites of the eyes, pitta is present. Soothing the eyes daily by splashing cool water on them or adding a few drops of rosewater can relieve red, itchy, dry, and tired eyes.

Nails. The nails also indicate the presence of vata, pitta, or kapha: Long vertical lines can indicate malabsorption; soft, flexible nails indicate pitta; brittle nails that break easily are more vata; and kapha nails are thick, oily, and strong. Dry skin is a feature of vata; oily skin prone to acne and rashes is a sign of pitta imbalance; and kapha skin is thick, soft, and smooth.

General appearance. Your body shape, the color and texture of your hair, your energy level, and even your gait can indicate the predominance of vata, pitta, or kapha. A vata body is one with thin, small bones, sinewy and without much curve or musculature. Pitta types are usually medium-framed with a moderate amount of musculature. Kapha types are fuller and bigger-boned with more curves. Vata hair is typically average in amount, dry, and light brown or blonde. Pitta types often have thinner hair, reddish or auburn, and may bald or go gray early in life. Kapha hair is generally thick, curly or wavy, dark brown, and oily.

Vata types have a sporadic amount of energy—bouncing around in one moment and exhausted in the next. Pitta types have a strong energy, but tend to burn themselves out by overscheduling. Kapha types are slow and steady; they have the stamina to go the long haul, but they don’t move terribly fast in the process.

After evaluating all aspects of your being, the practitioner can make clear suggestions about which Ayurvedic tools you can adopt to maintain a life of balance. These may include daily self-care routines, food choices, yoga and pranayama techniques, meditation and movement practices, and herbs. The true aim of Ayurveda is to clear out the clutter in the mind, senses, and body to access your greatest potential for health and thriving.

Find out more about online Ayurvedic consultations, part of our virtual Healing Arts services.

Erin Casperson, Lead Kripalu Faculty and Director of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, is passionate about sharing how the ancient practices of Ayurveda can be applied to modern-day living.

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